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First of all, let me say that I have a highly sensitive sense of smell, and I love perfume. I love smelling different fragrances. I love the bottles. I love the boxes. I love the ads and tv spots. I often buy products just based on the way they smell (or don’t buy them).

So I’m really looking forward to visiting the Fragonard Perfume Museum. I’m thinking there’ll be lots of classic perfume bottles to look at. Great stories of perfume seduction through the years. Huge displays of Chanel No. 5 commercials on the walls. Fabulous things to smell along the way.

But I most definitely do not love the Fragonard Perfume Museum.

It starts off with the hostess asking me what country I was from, handing me a solicitation flyer for their perfumes and gesturing for me to go upstairs. And then she said, “You can’t take any photos.” I’m thinking, wow, the stuff must be really good.


There’s some haughty woman up there barking the history of perfume to us in French. Her attitude says, “Listen, and don’t you dare ask a question!” She never smiles once. She shall henceforth be called the Perfume Dominatrix.

As you might expect, the audience is made up mainly of tourists who do not understand French. So after a few minutes, people start wandering off, doing their own thing, including me. The wall and identification plaques are all in French, too, so there’s no illumination to be had unless you could somehow channel 5 years’ worth of Rosetta Stone lessons.

The rooms have some ancient perfume bottles, of which I find the ones from Egypt to be the most interesting. And there’s some nice tromp l’oeil on the ceilings. There might be a Faberge egg; I think I hear the dominatrix mention it. There are mechanical thingies that look like perfume mixers and a tiny display of bottles with a scale, called a “perfume organ,” because mixing perfumes is supposedly like a symphony. A few cool package and label designs. A lot things that look like they’re for smelling, but they say, in French, “please don’t touch.”  Or smell, evidently. Sigh.

I really don’t understand the lack of marketing in Paris museums to non French speakers. No, I’m not being an ugly American here. It’s a matter of understanding and appealing to your target audience. Paris is a city whose main business is tourism. It is not like you’re going to a museum in Pittsburgh where the visitors are likely to be 95% locals. Put some placards up in English and Spanish, geesh. Perfume is complicated lingo. It’s not like I’m going to learn it on Rosetta Stone, where I basically get “sent mauvais” or “sent bon.” Also, it would be good for the museum if I took pictures. No flash, of course.

There are four tiny rooms in the museum. The perfume dominatrix speaks for about 5 minutes in three of the rooms, looking unhappy and in a hurry. Then they usher you downstairs and try to sell you perfume.

This is no museum. It’s a sales pitch.

Only museum in Paris so far that I’ve disliked. Don’t waste your time. I was in and out of there in 20 minutes, also the quickest museum tour I’ve done by far. If not for the package designs, I would have been out in 10.